Smalligan was originally recruited by West Virginia out of high school, and while he liked WVU then, admitted he was worried about the state of the Mountaineer program at that point. Head coach John Beilein was just beginning his rebuilding project, and the possibility of NCAA sanctions were also on Smalligan's mind. Those factors led him to sign with Butler in November of 2002. He had scheduled a visit with WVU as part of the Mountaineers' recruiting process, but ended up signing with the Bulldogs before that visit, and thus never saw the WVU campus before his visit last week.
"I had neve seen the mountains before, so that's the thing that got my attention the most," Smalligan said of his first trip to WVU. "But there are a lot of things that led me to pick West Virginia. First was Coach Beilein - he's been coaching for 30 years, and has been very successful. The facilities played a part, and the style of play was also attractive. And of course, Kevin Pittsnogle and the way he plays. I think I can do some of the things he does."
Smalligan, who watched Pittsnogle during the Big East and NCAA tournaments this past spring, admitted thinking that West Virginia would be a good fit for him while watching the Mountaineers march to the Elite Eight. That wasn't the case at Butler, which was something of a round hole for Smalligan's square peg.
"Coach [Todd] Lickliter is a good coach, but his style and mine just didn't fit," Smalligan said of the primary reason for his departure. "He's really laid back, and he doesn't yell or even talk a lot. That confused me -- I wasn't getting any feedback on what I was doing, and at times I had trouble figuring out what my role was on the team.
"The offense we ran didn't really fit me either," the seven-foot center continued. "We ran a lot of sets that didn't allow me to use my strengths."
Compounding that problem was an injury and an illness that stripped Smalligan of his starting job and caused a decline in his numbers from his freshman season. After earning a spot on the Fiesta Bowl All-tournament team this past season, Smalligan sprained an ankle, then developed strep throat and a viral infection that kept him on the bench for extended periods of time.
"It's really tough to come back from things like that and work you way back into playing," Smalligan said. "You try to come back, but it's really difficult to get your starting job back."
Faced with those issues, Smalligan decided to begin looking at his options. Although West Virginia was one of the schools that originally recruited him, he didn't consider WVU until a former coach sent his release announcement to the Mountaineers.
"One of my former coaches, Jeff Meyer, sent my release letter to West Virginia," Smalligan explained. "He was the coach I was closest to [at Butler], and he's now at Missouri. He and Coach Beilein are friends, so when he did that, I started considering WVU."
Ties such as those are often the threads on which commitments are built, and so it came to pass that Smalligan, who might not have considered West Virginia at all, ended up signing with them over Richmond, where Beilein cut his Division I teeth, and Missouri, where Meyer wound up after leaving Butler. College basketball is full of such connections and "small world" stories, and this time it worked in West Virginia's favor.
Up next: Smalligan's thoughts on sitting out as a transfer, and how he plans to attack his year without game activity.